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Outlook brighter for Maine’s potato industry as coronavirus restrictions relax

After months of struggles due to the shutdown of the food service industry during the coronavirus pandemic, the Aroostook County potato industry in Maine is seeing increased sales as states begin to reopen their economies, reports David Marino Jr. of The Star-Herald. His report is published by Bangor Daily News.

Rather than going unsold, many more potatoes from the 2019 crop in Maine will end up on plates and trays across the country as restaurant-ready items such as french fries and mashed potatoes.

Two months ago, many farmers were left with few buyers for their 2019 crop as restaurants closed and fairs, festivals and concerts were canceled across the country. With fewer orders coming in, processors failed to find homes for bags upon bags of french fries they had primed for restaurants and, as a result, decreased orders for new potatoes.

Concern for Maine’s $100 million-plus potato industry continues, including at the federal level. On June 1, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, wrote a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue calling for direct relief for potato farmers nationwide.

Yet, as farmers finish planting for the 2020 potato harvest, Maine Potato Board President Don Flannery said there are uncertainties in the industry’s future.

Flannery said he expects processors to be cautious as the economy recovers and purchase fewer potatoes from the 2020 crop. He said the decreased demand would drive farmers to grow 4,000 to 5,000 fewer acres of potatoes than the 2019 crop, about a 10 percent decrease.

Many Maine potatoes had found homes on the fresh market in grocery stores, Flannery said. It was perhaps unsurprising because stay-at-home orders led to more people opting to cook at home.

Still, many of the traditional venues for Maine potatoes remain closed off. Sporting events, concerts and festivals have virtually halted nationwide. Even in states experiencing quicker reopenings, governors have imposed rules preventing restaurants from operating at capacity.

Read the full story in the Bangor Daily News here
Photo: In this file photo, published by BDN, potatoes await harvesting at Green Thumb Farms in Fryeburg. | Robert F. Bukaty | AP

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Lukie Pieterse, Editor and Publisher of Potato News Today

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